It´s fascinating to follow the debate following Bryn Terfel´s cancellation of his upcoming Wotan appearances even if I´m not really interested in the matter per se. New articles in The Telegraph and an interview with his wife in Daily Mail has spurred a furious debate on diverse opera discussion groups about the relative values of family, opera, commitments, sacrifices etc.
Looking at the whole affair rather dispassionately from the outside (I haven´t bought a ticket to the performances and I am no fan of Terfel), my take on the situation is as follows:
Bryn Terfel has actively been seeking mainstream stardom status as well as the accompanying fees. Upon achieving such status however, follows a higher degree of responsibility compared to an “ordinary” singer.
The ROH Ring is not just any opera production – it is probably the biggest single event of the past 5 years at the ROH, and with a set-up relying quite heavily on the presence of Bryn Terfel´s star quality. It´s understandable, of course, if Bryn Terfel wants to make changes in his future life-style, but the professional way to do this is to honour short-term commitments and then cancel or work something out with future engagements. It is deeply irresponsible towards the opera-going public not to mention the operatic management to cancel such a major appearance on such short notice. Even when deeper family problems than the much-quoted finger of his son may be at the core of this (which is none of our business, of course, despite mrs. Terfel chosing to divulge them to the Daily Mail).
Opera most certainly is not a matter of life and death, and certainly it shouldn´t take precedence over family – it is much simpler: It´s a job. Bryn Terfel signed a contract. In his business, contracts are signed years in advance. His privileged position in this business taken into consideration, you may reasonably expect him to plan his scheduled commitments allowing for smaller emergencies in the private sphere.
Again, all the above is only valid assuming he’s learned the part (Wanderer) and remembers the other two Wotans.
Looking somewhat dispassionately at this from the outside – I am personally quite unaffected by his non-Wotan-appearances, thinking him unsuitable in this repertoire anyway- the only explanation making sense to me is a combination of a lack of preparation with private problems. And this, in my opinion, is both deeply disrespectful and unprofessional behaviour.
I keep putting this on blogs. I totally agree with what was written here. Matters have been made worse with the Mail interview: imagine if Mrs T had been talking about a world class surgeon the explanation would have been ridiculous. I also think that Terfel was frit a Mrs Thatchered Lincolnshire word meaning frightened The everest of Wotan was too much for him. In the previous tries he had not been able to complete the run of the first two operas even when they were months apart How could he have done two cycles in less than a month? And now a 60 year old will show him how to do it? The public still lose because we are now denied Tomlinson's Hagen
Whether a child on the playground, or a major opera singer on the world's stages, everyone of us wants to save face when the obvious fact arises that we are unable to perform what we have said we could perform. Saving face is one of our primary defense mechanisms. Mr. Terfel has come to the realization that he can not sing Wagner any more, and you can be sure that he has tried with all his might to reverse that situation. I am sure that he has spent countless hours working with coaches, teachers and conductors who have tried in vain to prepare him for these monumental roles. The problem is...his voice can not sustain such punishing, long and dramatic music. Mr. Terfel is a wonderful actor. He is also a very insightful artist...but these gifts still do not make up for the fact that his vocal technique is not up to the challenges of the Wanderer, or the Walkure Wotan. Hans Sachs, also, would tax him to the point where he would be unable to finish that longest of baritone roles. These parts require a huge, dark, ringing baritone voice...and one that can sustain big, dramatic singing over hours on stage. Mr. Terfel excels at comedy, and in operas where short bursts of drama are called for...but Wagner requires more. He is wise to step down from Wagner roles, however he was deceitful, in a way, to lead opera companies along with the belief that he is now ready to perform such works. Having heard him recently in a recital, I was somewhat shocked at the smallish sound he is now producing, not to mention the vocal distress he seemed to be in. Singers have a way of covering themselves and pulling things off, despite troubles they find themselves in on stage, and he did just that. But it was obvious to me that this is no voice for Wagner. I predict that he will continue to cancel contracts, and maybe stop singing all together soon. He has made his mark, and has a huge fan base. It would be wrong to keep accepting contracts, only to cancel them, just to satisfy his ego. Mr. Terfel has the brains and artistry to be a great Wotan and Sachs...but not the voice.
He has had a good ride over the past 20 years. But enough is enough.
I completely agree with the above general argument on BT´s singing. However, I don´t think he has come to this realization himself, as he keeps talking about how much he looks forward to Sachs and Wotan (at the Met) and how he has outgrown his Mozart repertoire.
Vocally I simply cannot see him pulling Hans Sachs or the Walküre-Wotan off with his current voice. More on that in two weeks after his October 21th Copenhagen recital, which I´m rather curious about.
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